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BMW E1: The car that revolutionized mobility


In 1991 the BMW E1 showed what cars were going to be like 25 years later, with incredible innovations and approaches that have taken decades to catch up. It was never mass-produced because battery technology did not allow it; not even society, legislation and infrastructures were prepared for the arrival of electric cars.

Although the BMW E1 maintained its characteristic propulsion, under its hood was an electrical mechanic. The concept was presented at the 1991 Frankfurt Motor Show and was so innovative that it caused a sensation and became one of the main focuses of the exhibition, although it was not the first foray of the German house into electric mobility.

The BMW E1 was barely 3.460 mm long, 1.648 mm wide and 1.500 mm high, which today would be considered an A-segment model. Of course, it had a long wheelbase, which together with the advanced design study and ergonomics made by BMW Technik allowed to have a spacious and versatile interior, with the capacity to comfortably move four adults with all their luggage.

Its architecture was so advanced that it continues to amaze today with its lightweight construction and safety concepts. The frame was built with extruded aluminum and the body was made with plastic elements created from recyclable polymers (it is a similar approach to the BMW i3, which adds carbon fiber to this formula).

The BMW E1 reached record figures, with a curb weight of just 907 kg including the 200 kg long-life batteries. In terms of safety, it had, for the first time, front and rear shock-absorbing structures to provide greater protection for both passengers and batteries (located under the rear seats, they were protected with a highly resistant structural frame and rigidity). Another pioneering concept was the regeneration and energy recovery system from deceleration and braking of the car.


The declared maximum autonomy was 160 kilometers, more than enough to guarantee mobility for daily use in urban environments. The time required to complete the recharging of the batteries was very similar to the current one. From a conventional outlet, 6 to 8 hours of connection were necessary, which were reduced to just 2 hours if the car was plugged into a high-power charger, which also recharged 80 percent of the battery in just one hour. .

The 120 volts of power delivered by the BMW E1's batteries powered an electric motor entirely developed by BMW Technik engineers. Located on the rear axle, this mechanic delivered a power of 32 kW (43 hp) and a maximum torque of 150 Nm. As a result, the BMW E1 reached a limited top speed of 120 km / h, accelerating from 0 to 50 km / h in 6 seconds.

The electronic architecture of the BMW E1 was equally innovative in those years. With only two main modules, intelligent control of the operation of all electrical components was ensured. The battle against weight caused BMW Technik engineers to do a lot of simplification work. Thus, where before numerous connections and switchboards were required, this car established important advances that have led to today's modern architectures.


The BMW E1 was also a pioneer in design, aerodynamics and ergonomics. It was literally acclaimed both by the public present at that edition of the Frankfurt Motor Show and by the main specialized media, which came to describe it as "the most advanced car of the century."

Five different BMW E1 prototypes were built and an updated version of the model, intended for the North American market, was even presented at the 1992 Los Angeles Motor Show. But the BMW E1 was never produced in series, because despite all efforts Research, the battery technology of 25 years ago did not allow it.

There was also neither demand nor sufficient awareness in society regarding electric mobility. The legislative and infrastructure environment was also unprepared for the arrival of electric cars in the early 90s.


Mind you, the BMW E1 has earned its place in history for many reasons. With this car it could be said that the mobility of the future was born. And all this, without losing the hallmarks of the brand, combining dynamism and efficiency, a sporty character and respect for the environment.

But above all, the BMW E1 will be remembered because in 1991 it showed how cars were going to be 25 years later, with incredible conceptions, approaches and innovations that have taken decades to catch up. The BMW i3 and BMW i8 are direct heirs to this car, many of whose advanced concepts have lit the way for technicians and engineers in the automotive world.

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Automundo is the blog about news from the automotive industry, motorsport and the culture of the region. Director: Diego Durruty.

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